The long journey to Luang Prabang (Day 8 – Day 10)

Feb 26

If the bus ride from PingXiang to Zhuhai was a transportation nightmare in my Vietnam-China-Hong Kong-Macao trip, then the journey from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang in Laos was a worse nightmare.

After relaxing in Pai, I decided it’s time to continue my journey to Laos. To cross over to Laos from Thailand, first I have to go to Chiang Khong. The only option I have in Pai was by minibus (it looked like a van to me). The ticket price was 750 Baht and it includes a bed to sleep in a dormitory in Chiang Khong. The journey took 6 hours. When I arrived at Chiang Khong, it was already 3 or 4 am. Thank goodness I have a place to sleep in the town because the I could hardly sleep along the journey thanks to the winding road and super cold air-cond. I woke up at the break of dawn and took a short cold shower before being transported to the border checkpoint beside Mekong River.

The place I slept in Chiang Khong.

Going to the border check point on a pickup truck

Buddhist monks

As a Malaysian, I don’t have to apply for Laos visa at the border. Not only it saves me some money, I can skip the long queue at the immigration counter. Once done with all the immigration formalities, I walked toward the bank of Mekong River where hordes of boats already waiting to ferry tourists across the river to Laos.

Queuing for visa. Malaysian don’t have to do visa and I was the only Malaysian at the moment. I felt so privileged. Muahahaha…

Boat to cross Mekong River

Mekong River…

Crossing Mekong River with Antoine, Pierre, Remi and Guillaume

I landed on Huay Xai town in Laos after a short boat ride. Most tourists continued their journey to Luang Prabang by slow boat along Mekong River. Some went for the speed boat, while a few including me opted for local bus. The reason I chose the local bus was because I heard a lot of unfavorable experiences on slow boat from other travelers I met along the way. Most complained about the long journey. It takes 2 days! Speed boat is totally out of questions unless you do not mind become deaf for few hours or end up dead.

Even though the choice was obvious, I did not know what to expect from the bus ride. All I know was the journey would take 14 hours. When I arrived at the bus terminal, I had the feeling that it’s not going to be comfortable. Stood in the middle of the red barren land was a worn down concrete building which turned out to be the bus terminal. Only a couple of bus parked in the compound. The next available bus to Luang Prabang was on 12.30pm. Since I arrived too early, I had to wait in the bus station for at least 2 or 3 hours. When I laid my eyes on the bus that I was going to take, my jaw dropped wide open. The dirt covered bus could be older than me and literally, it carried a whole house on the roof. There were 2 cupboards and 3 queen size mattresses along with other boxes.

Lunch time

My first meal in Laos.

Cow boy town? Around the bus station in Huay Xai

The bus. Notice the cupboards and mattresses on the roof.

I was lucky enough to get a seat. Those who came late had to sit on a plastic chairs that were put up ad hoc along the aisle. The plastic chairs have to share the aisle with bags of rice and other “cargo”. Another thing I have to put up with for 14 hours was limited leg space. It was really cramped and uncomfortable. I imagined it was worse for those Caucasians with longer legs. Some local passengers brought along chickens with them. I could hear clucking sound of a chicken occasionally especially when the bus breaks abruptly.

In the bus

The plastic chairs for latecomers.

Really cramp seat

The journey itself was a torture. Most part of the road was unpaved and winding up and down many hills. If you have week stomach, then take this trip and you will end up with a strong stomach. I was numbed to the winding and bumpy road after awhile. Because the road was unpaved and we couldn’t shut the bus windows, we all have to eat dust whenever there was a big truck or bus in front of us. The only comfort I had during the journey was when the bus stopped for ‘toilet’ break. Everyone got down from the bus and did their ‘business’ at the road side or at dried up padi field. The journey got worse when night falls (around 7pm). The road was dark and the temperature dropped sharply. I had to coil in my seat to keep myself warm because the wind breaker did little help. After a while, I got numbed. I couldn’t see anything from the window except for some camp fires along the road made by the hill tribes and stars in the sky. I kept looking at my phone (I don’t wear watch) hoping the time would past quickly. It doesn’t. It moved even slower.

Toilet break

More toilet breaks

The only comfort throughout the journey

Guillaume and Pierre paying a visit to the “house” on the roof.

A photo before continue the torturing

At the end of the journey everybody including myself was extremely delighted that we had finally reach our destination alive. Despite all the torture I had to endure, another fellow traveler told me it is still better than the slow boat.

Now I have another thing to worry. How do I find a place to sleep at 4am? More on this later.


  1. Hey Ben !
    Very nice to read and feel this terrible trip again ! A so nice memory ! Waiting for the next post…

    • Yo! Remi! Thanks for dropping by. Well, it was one heck of a journey and I am glad we all survived to cherish the memory. Are you guys still in Vietnam? Wish you and the gang happy traveling.

  2. Hey! My friend and I are planning a trip through laos, thailand, cambodia, vietnam, hong kong, and japan from nov to december. Any tips and know anyone that may be going a similar time? We’re hoping to hit vientaine and luang prabang

  3. Low Kong Foo /

    Hi Ben Do you think it is advisable to put up a night at Luangnamtha n continue the journey the next day? I did the journey in 2005 december, from Luangnamtha to Huay Xai. It took us 10 hours on a small minibus. The bus stopped twice for repair in the middle of the jungle. This november I plan to travel from Luang prabang to Luangnamtha for a night before heading to Huay Xai. In 2005, the road was terrific. Now, 7 years later should be better, right?

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